Brendan Rodgers is currently the head over heels bookies favourite to win the LMA Manager of the Year, with Liverpool heading into the final ten games of the season sitting second and only four points and a game in hand off league leaders Chelsea.
This being a Liverpool side that many didn’t even put in their top four at the start of the season, a Liverpool side outspent by Tottenham (their biggest competition for taking Manchester United’s vacant Champions League spot) twice over, a Liverpool side that were the subject of much criticism at the start of the season for failing to handle the Luis Suarez saga effectively and behind closed doors (with Suarez at one point refusing to train and threatening legal action against the club).
Indeed, even the most optimistic of Liverpool fans would have struggled to have foreseen the club being in the position they are now when, midway through the summer a bid was launched for Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa in what was seemingly a measure preparing for Suarez’s departure.
Yet here they stand. Rodgers is being hailed in all quarters as a tactical genius and a breath of fresh air with notable masterclasses being Liverpool’s 5-1 demolition of Arsenal at Anfield, with four goals coming in the first 20 minutes, and the 5-0 humiliation of Spurs on their own turf – a result that signalled the end of AVB’s tenure at the Lane.
But now I’m going to stick my neck on the line; Liverpool will not win the Premier League title this season. I’m relatively certain that when it comes down to it they are just not quite good enough. Their array of attacking talent is enough to scare any team in the world, but defensively they are still error prone and with Manchester City and Chelsea still to play this season will most likely be just a bit too soon for them. Thus, on the admittedly fragile assumption that they will not be going on to win it this year, the question is – where do they go next?
They will be almost certainly playing in the Champions League next season and thus will for the first time in years have virtually unrestricted to the global pool of talent in the transfer market. Furthermore, added revenues and the extreme likelihood that Suarez will be staying (on the basis that he has frequently reiterated his desire to be involved in Champions League football at Anfield) will offer them a world of possibilities in the summer and perhaps the best chance in over a decade to finally win that elusive first ever Premier League title.
Rodgers’ first job will be to secure the future of all his star players, the last thing Liverpool can afford is a wobbly start to the season caused by a dramatically changed first eleven. The players in question are the obvious two strikers, but also the likes of Phillipe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling, Daniel Agger, Glen Johnson et al.
Thankfully for Liverpool, no players are immediately out of contract with only Aly Cissokho and Victor Moses of the current squad being uncertainties for next season. However, it is also possible that there could be tempting bids in the summer for players, with Daniel Agger one of the many Liverpool players being fleetingly linked with moves to City, Barcelona and the like. It is tantamount that Liverpool do not begin to lose the hub of their team and source of much of their success this season.
Sure, these players may not necessarily be the standout individuals in the team yet all would be in some way or another difficult and risky to try to replace. Arsenal are a perfect example of a team who in a similar position to Liverpool have subsequently been too quick to let players leave, compromising their chances of future success. Nasri, Toure, Clichy and Alex Song are all players they may have made better efforts to hold on to. Rodgers simply cannot let this happen and if he can keep this season’s team in tact going to the next – it will be the first step in Liverpool’s bid to win the league.
The second thing needed is also transfer related but deserves to be a target in itself. It is of course, keeping Luis Suarez. As I have already stated, this seems extremely likely given his recent comments to the Liverpool echo:
Stevie [Gerrard] has told me about Champions League nights at Anfield. He said when you have played Champions League football at Anfield you will never forget it. I want to try it for myself. When I arrived here I said it was my dream to play for Liverpool and play Champions League here. I know I can achieve my dreams here.
However, there remains a faint possibility that Real Madrid, Arsenal or even Chelsea could lodge an interest, and with Suarez recently signing a contract widely believed to have included a clarification of the clause that caused so much confusion in the summer – the prospect of losing him is just about real enough that it will still worry many Liverpool fans right up until the window slams shut on the 31st August.
The fact is, losing Suarez would be a hammer blow of epic proportions and would wipe out Liverpool’s title hopes. Regardless of how much they get for him he is simply irreplaceable There is no striker in the world who could come close to replacing Suarez at Liverpool and certainly none that they could attract were they to sell him. Keeping him will therefore, will be the second step in helping Liverpool to win the title.
The third and final step will be spending wisely and in the right areas and this will undoubtedly be the most tricky of the three. The hardest thing for Liverpool will be to spend wisely enough such that their transfer activity betters that of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City – and this is no mean feat. Chelsea and City seem completely disinterested by Financial Fair Play and will almost certainly both be spending in excess of £50 million. Any less would be hugely out of character.
Arsenal, meanwhile, have paid off the majority of their stadium debts and have just launched a new multi million pound deal with Puma – so they will surely be looking to continue the precedent set down by the Özil signing by adding more world-class talent to their team. Rodgers must therefore spend wisely and in the right areas – as his Liverpool team will almost certainly be faced with stronger opposition than they have faced this season.
The key area to target for me is the defensive side in the team and this includes a new left back, a centre back to partner Agger/provide competition for Sakho and Skrtel and possibly a holding midfielder with Lucas Leiva seemingly unable to complete a full season and Gerrard perhaps likely to play a diminished role next season with signals of his age beginning to creep into his game despite him having a largely impressive season.
Speculating as to who these signings could be is on the whole rather futile as only Rodgers will know who he wants and what he is willing to pay, but what is crucial is that they do happen. This season’s team will not be enough with City, Chelsea and Arsenal all guaranteed to strengthen. Yet, if Rodgers can spend wisely and in the right areas then Liverpool will be in a really good place to win the title.
Liverpool are a side with all the foundations of a team who look poised to achieve something big. They have a young, exciting manager in Brendan Rodgers, a fantastic stadium, a prolific captain, the right balance of individuals and team spirit, a formidable attack and now will almost certainly have Champions League football. The Premier League title is well within their grasp. If they can take it next season then I expect that to be the start of a prolonged period of Liverpool success – especially if UEFA can work out an effective way of curbing the spending of all the tycoon, sugar daddies.
However, failure to do so in the next few years may just take the sting out of Rodgers’ Liverpool project and with Manchester United unlikely to remain a sleeping lion for too long, Liverpool must take this chance to reestablish themselves as one of the major forces in English football.
As always seems the case, so much rests on the next summer transfer window but it really does seem to be make or break for Liverpool FC.